Looking to make life as a big person dealing with chronic pain easier
February 3, 2016 3:42 PM   Subscribe

So, I've always been big, somewhere between 180 to 200 pounds, at 5'5". I'm female. My thyroid quit on me about 2 years ago and it's been a struggle. I'm holding steady at 250 pounds. I'm not looking for weight loss tips. I'm looking for tips from people my size on how to make my life easier.

As I said above the fold, I've always been on the heavy side. I'm one of those people cursed with a "slow metabolism" in that I look at food the wrong way and I gain weight. At my heaviest, I weighed 280 pounds. That was a combination of depression and side effects from medication taking their toll. I lost most of that and kept it off for about five years until my thyroid quit on me. Now I'm holding steady at 250 pounds. But this isn't about me losing weight, because I'm not interested in that. That is between me and my doctors.

I have myriad health difficulties which I've posted about before -- the big ones being hypothyroidism, asthma, arthritis in various joints, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, bipolar, IBS-C, menopause... and a few others that are too many to list here. I take medication for the thyroid and the bipolar, and a rescue inhaler for the breathing difficulties. Everything else is... being worked on. Anyway, all of this extra weight that appeared suddenly is not helping with all of this, and I just wonder if there are ways I can make my life easier. Less stress = healing power and all that.

Again, I'm not asking about how to lose weight. I'm not looking for diet changes. Please don't tell me what you cut out of your diet that "changed your world." What I'm asking for are tips from people my size who might also have health difficulties. Physical changes that people have made in their lives that made their lives easier. For example, I'm thinking of removing the bathtub from my bathroom and converting it to a walk-in shower because I never take a bath anyway, and stepping over the sides of the bathtub hurts my knees and back. Things like that, but perhaps not so drastic or remodel-y...

If someone were to ask me the same question, I would tell them that my adjustable bed has made a huge difference in my life.

Stuff like that. I guess it doesn't have to be weight specific, but it seems that all of this extra weight is playing a huge factor in my life right now and I just want to make things easier on my body so it will stop rebelling against me.
posted by patheral to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Along the same lines as the adjustable bed, they make motorized recliners that tip up and forward to help a person get up from the chair. My FIL (who is large and has mobility issues) has one and he seems to really like it.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:49 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who is heavy, and has pain and "spoon sapping" issues, and a couple of things that have helped her - a shower chair and hand-held shower head so she can sit down in the shower, and making sure her shoes were good quality, supportive and well-fitted.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:49 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

New Merrills once a year whether you need them or not.
posted by notned at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I gained a lot of weight with my last pregnancy and was constantly in pain and miserable. It was absolutely mind blowing how much better every part of my body felt the first time I swam in a pool. Of course, getting myself to the pool was a chore, but once there, the water made me feel nearly weightless.
posted by defreckled at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and P.S.: Diabetic socks are softer and less binding than regular socks - I know heavy folks who swear by them.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:55 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since you say not all suggestions have to be weight-related: have you had a sleep study? If you haven't, you could consider asking your doctors. Sleep apnea can definitely contribute to weight gain, stress, etc. There's also another sleep breathing disorder called UARS that has high co-morbidity with fibromyalgia, IBS, and hypothyroidism. If you do have a sleep breathing disorder, treating that would really improve the quality of your sleep.

Doctors tend not to look for sleep disorders as often in women, partly because sleep disorders can have different symptoms in women than they have in men (for example, women are more likely to report fatigue, while men report sleepiness).
posted by pie ninja at 3:57 PM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

A massage therapist who deals in active release therapies can really help with the joint pain that comes with being a big person. Actually doing the stretches they suggest between the visits is particularly helpful.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:59 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Body Glide is absolutely indispensable if you like to wear skirts or dresses without leggings underneath. Along those lines, you can also totally ignore the manufacturer's instructions and put deodorant on other external skin folds besides your armpits where you tend to get sweaty.

Gel mats
are great for your feet in the kitchen, or in any other place with a hard floor where you're standing in one place for a long time.
posted by phoenixy at 4:00 PM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Anything that you can do to keep your current level of mobility will really help a lot. After a certain age, things start to seize up. Look for a gym that caters to senior citizens- those gyms will have the pools that are heated to a therapeutic level, which will relax everything. Look for some that offer gentle classes.

If you can find therapeutic yoga, that would be awesome. Gentle stretches, done properly, can make a world of difference. Nothing that will make you sweat, by the way.

Acupuncture is also really, super great for just about everything.

If your budget doesn't allow any of this, borrow yoga videos from your local library and just do the warm up and the cool down, skipping the middle bits.
posted by myselfasme at 4:06 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My health problems aren't related to my weight, but I've got plenty of 'em and my level of disability waxes and wanes. It's been a struggle to accept using things like canes and those arm extender-grabby deals, but when I throw my back out and it's hell to get out of bed or pick something up off the floor, those things can be lifesavers. So maybe that'd be one tip: force yourself to look into the more general things that disabled people do, even if you have a hard time thinking of yourself as disabled.

My shrink has been nagging me for years to get handicapped plates for my car. I haven't done it, partly because I'm lazy but also because I'd feel like I was cheating. But it wouldn't be cheating, there are times when I end up parking too far away and the walk is awful. So maybe you should think about handicapped plates too, if you don't have them already. It could make a big difference.

I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis years ago and I was in miserable pain for years. Then it mysteriously got better. I can't say for sure, but I think the thing that may have made the difference was I started eating one fun-size bar of dark chocolate every day. (One of these little angels.) Dark Chocolate is supposed to be good for OA. Glucosamine didn't help, painkillers barely helped, but I started eating dark chocolate and the pain that was ruining my life went away. (Knock wood!) I've been recommending it ever since, and at this point I think Hershey should be sending me free chocolates for all the PR I've been doing.

If you have the option to take baths, I'd recommend trying it for therapeutic purposes before you remove the tub! Baths are good for joint and muscle pain and breathing steam is good for the respiratory system. Sitz baths can be good for various internal problems. (Don't ask me how that works, but it does.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:10 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I guess my question wasn't clear... sorry about that. I'm not really looking for lifestyle tips (yoga, gym, pool, etc...). I have doctors for that. I'm looking for things I can change in my physical world (shower, bed, chairs, etc... the tip about the diabetic socks is spot on) that will make my life easier.
posted by patheral at 4:11 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you wear shoes in the house? I find that leaving my shoes on dramatically helps me with my own pain issues. Make sure they're supportive - slippers don't really do it. Good trainers or danskos (the "official" shoe of nurses everywhere).
posted by sockermom at 4:17 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've seen ads for bathtub doors, but nothing from anyone who has one installed.
posted by brujita at 4:18 PM on February 3, 2016

Best answer: Body pillow. It just provides so much more support for sleeping. I also sleep with my feet elevated.

I do have a walk-in shower. It is very convenient. I'm not totally sure I could get out of a tub unassisted right now.

I don't drive, but door-to-door taxis are fantastic. I use them liberally. (I spend less than the average person spends on a car payment and insurance.) If I drove, I would take a disabled disc in a red-hot minute.

I use a walking stick when needed and when going anywhere with hills or unknown territory.

I use wheelchairs in airports.

Mostly, I conserve my teaspoons.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:18 PM on February 3, 2016

Best answer: If you have trouble bending over to put your socks on, these can really help. I used them when I broke my arm. It was a bit hard to put the sock on it at first, but I eventually mastered it (and having the use of both hands would have helped).

Amplestuff is a company that specializes in useful products for large people.

I have a love/hate relationship with my steam mop. It's much easier than bending over to clean the floor, but I have problems with my hands, and the ergonomics of the handle are awful. You might want to see if you can find a better model.
posted by FencingGal at 4:23 PM on February 3, 2016

I have a neck injury, and I also resisted getting a handicapped placard because I felt it would be cheating. I finally gave in a few months ago. So. Much. Better. It was super easy, all I had to do was fill out a form, have the doctor sign it, and send it in to the DMV.
posted by radioamy at 4:44 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you recently been professionally fitted for a good fitting bra? It can make a tremendous difference in helping with back and shoulder pain, and from discussions with friends and family, I think the impact is even greater for heavier women. Also, I've found that as my weight fluctuates, my bra size has changed, so if it's been a while, you might want to go back and get fitted again.
posted by pallas14 at 4:44 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Switch to shoes made for supportive comfort and wear them always. The thing that hurts the most when I've carried too much weight is my feet. I walk like a 95 year old some mornings. And cute ballet flats and sandals with no support are not worth the pain before or after wearing them.
posted by cecic at 5:01 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you have a couch, get a foam cushion to elevate your legs; if you spend an hour or so lying down with your legs elevated, you'll probably get another two or three hours of reduced pain and fatigue that same evening.

Also: it is truly worth getting both shoes and bras fitted by an expert, and to spend the money on good ones. Pay particular attention to shoe width: for years I wore 8.5WW shoes but I'm actually more like a 7WWWW.

Similarly, if you get a mobility aid like a cane, get it fitted at a store that sells a lot of them. A cane that is too short or too long will cause far more pain than hobbling.

If you do swim, go for a heated pool. My stepmom says it's changed her life.

If you get irritation that leads to raw itchy spots (under breasts, etc.) ask your doctor for a prescription for Greer's Goo, which you'll have to get at a compound pharmacy but it is so worthwhile.

Getting your hair cut short will greatly reduce the physical exertion required for showering.

Nthing the disability placard. You can also use that same system to get access to limited-mobility transit buses that come to your door.

Pay for someone else to clean your house.

Grocery store baggers still help you take stuff to your car; you just have to ask (it used to be they offered.) Some also let you shop online and pick it up at the curb, and they'll bring it to your car if you ask.

Most of this is stuff my mom and stepmom taught me after they were in car accidents, though you will pry that leg cushion from my dead fingers only with substantial effort.
posted by SMPA at 5:03 PM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have larger feet, thyroid problems and achey joints. For me buying mostly men's shoes is so much better. The shoes last longer, are more durable, comfortable, and more stable for my feet and I feel like I can walk better. I did buy Merrells. Also running shoes with lots of memory foam/padding in them are super helpful when walking, even when I am never ever going to run!

Memory foam mattress pad has also been a game changer for me. Really helps my legs rest at night.
posted by bessiemae at 6:05 PM on February 3, 2016

This might not be what you're really looking for, but it's a recent discovery for me, and I'm telling EVERYONE about it... as I have sleep issues, and fibro, and take meds that can cause insomnia, yet refuse to take anything that totally knocks me out because it REALLY knocks me out too far... I've tried melatonin in the past, and it really didn't help. My sister recently showed me that they have a dissolving type that works well with her three-year-old twins, and wow - that stuff WORKS for me. No clue why my body cooperates with it when the regular tablets do nothing, but it's VERY nice. It's solved this phase of not-good-sleep-at-night, at least.
posted by stormyteal at 7:30 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

See a podiatrist regularly to make sure nails etc get trimmed properly that can save a lot of problems.

Get a short easy to care for hairstyle.

If you can afford an electric lift recliner chair they can make getting in and out of the chair so much easier. If you can't afford a fancy chair. One of these can help, as can simply putting risers under the legs of your favourite chair, raising up any chair you normally sit in that you find comfortable so you don't have to go up & down so far
posted by wwax at 7:47 PM on February 3, 2016

Do your best to get slip on shoes of some sort. That way you do not need to bend over and reach your feet to get them on or off.

You might try sleeping in kind a number four position, with one leg straight-ish, one bent at the knee, partway on your stomach and partway on your side. When my respiratory/joint/etc problems were at their worst, that was the most comfortable and restful sleep position I could find.
posted by Michele in California at 7:57 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My aunt (88) has tried many seemingly cool things and had Opinions about them, so as a word or two of caution: the recliner with the motor that lifts you up? Takes FOREVER to get all the way up. So if the doorbell rings or you need to quickly get to the bathroom? Not happening. It has been pushed to the other side of the room now in disgrace.

And the walk-in tubs? The kind that are really tall, have a door that you open, get inside, close the door, then fill the tub and sit on the bench? You have to sit there FOREVER naked and cold while the water fills up...and then later when it drains.

She's not even an impatient person! It's just the kind of thing the shiny advertisements don't mention. She had the tub removed and a wider shower stall installed. It's deep enough that she can put a sturdy shower chair in it, and it has a great handheld sprayer.

So before you sink too much money into anything, be sure to do some research.

I'm a smidge taller and heavier than you, with knee and back issues, arthritis, diabetes, etc., and beyond testing new furniture for sturdiness before buying, making sure I go to the movie theaters that have recliners, and always getting the aisle seat in theaters and airplanes, I don't have too many tips. I guess it depends on a lot of things like age and overall energy levels.

For ex: if I were going to buy a house at my age (51) I'd assume I'm going to get more broken, so I'd buy accordingly: no stairs. W/D in unit. Parking nearby. I think at some point I'll get an adjustable bed, and I'll definitely get a recliner of some kind. I love the foam topper on my mattress, so I'm pretty sure soft bed works for me. After thoracic surgery, my bestie got me some wedge-shaped pillows that let me sleep on an incline and made it easier to get out of bed. I have since retired them, but they were great while I needed them.

Other routine things: Since my thyroid has been an issue, I am often cold, so I have a tall space heater that I move between my desk and my bed as the night wears on. I moved the cat food up into a cabinet instead of on a lower shelf because I didn't want to bend over several times a day. I haven't solved the washing machine issue, but I guess if I got more broken I'd get a front loader. These things are mostly mobility related and not specifically weight related, however.
posted by clone boulevard at 8:41 PM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

I do have one bit of advice that's counter-intuitive: allow some things to stay difficult, even if you could find an easier way.

Years ago I had bad OA and this weird heart thing going on, and exercising became difficult and painful and I did less and less of it. The next thing I knew I was fat again and my back was going out constantly. Then I got a job where I was forced to be on my feet a lot. I hated every minute of it, but I did build up some strength and my back did get better. I don't have that job anymore but I now force myself to walk for half an hour 6-7 days a week, only giving myself a break if I've done other physical stuff that day or if I am truly too sick to move.

I've read studies that said disabled people with supportive partners can actually get worse faster than people whose partners are less supportive. (And ain't that a bitch? The jerky partner who calls you a big whiny baby may actually be doing you a favor!) I remember an article about healthy aging where a doctor said "you can be assisted to death." As much as our bodies may hurt, as much as everything is telling us to get off our feet and go back to bed, there are real benefits to pushing ourselves past the point of discomfort.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:05 AM on February 4, 2016 [11 favorites]

I would second all advice concerning supportive, easy to put on shoes. I would add that, for me, constantly feeling hot is the worst part about being overweight. To that end I would recommend comfortable clothing that is designed to wick moisture off of your skin and generally keep you cool. Not being constantly sweaty goes a very long way towards making me feel human.
posted by deadwater at 5:05 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Custom orthopedic inserts for your shoes
posted by Jacqueline at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Any kind of comfy insert that you put in your shoes to make walking easier will wear out. I think mine are supposed to be replaced every 3 months, but I often go over that. When I get close to 6 months, I realize they are not working as well and remember to replace them. If your shoes fit well otherwise and you just get sore on the bottoms, a heel support insert should be about $15 and well worth it. If you rotate shoes, buy one for each pair so you don't have to remember them.
posted by soelo at 7:53 AM on February 4, 2016

I understand you said no yoga, but Restorative Yoga is basically lying down in different positions and using foam blocks and hard cushions to feel comfortable and relax in those positions. I often sleep during this class.

So my tip is go to 1 restorative yoga class, then buy the blocks/cushions and use them at home to feel more comfortable in various positions in bed/on the couch.
posted by rmless at 8:44 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but this gadget made my life bearable as a chronic pain sufferer. It's supposed to be for picking things up when bending over hurts - I found that it helped me in all kinds of ways, from laundry to just reaching stuff.
(Once I even used it to grab a menacing wasp and safely remove it from my bedroom so it wouldn't sting me, while also sparing its life. Go figure.)
posted by bookgirl18 at 8:45 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh and when I was pregnant and was having a hell of a time bending over, a boot jack made ALL the difference.
posted by rmless at 8:46 AM on February 4, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all. I actually have shoes covered. I bought custom inserts a while back and have used them for years now. I might need to replace them soon though now that y'all mention it... could be why my back has started hurting again.

Anyway, I appreciate the tips. Thanks!
posted by patheral at 10:32 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm somewhat taller so perhaps this is less of an issue, but an elevated toilet seat with sidebars was a godsend when I had mobility issues.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2016

I'm quite fat and have OA that gives me lots of difficulties. One thing that helps immensely is low impact walk aerobics. A 30 min Leslie Sansone tape keeps me from seizing up. Aonther thing I do is carefully plan time on my feet. If I stay on my feet too long w/o a break often I suffer the rest of the day then don't sleep well. So I go shopping then sit once home. Prepping meals I do most slicing & dicing sitting at the table, then get up to cook etc. I will go to the basement to do laundry and put everything that needs to be brought upstairs near the steps and ask DH to carry it up so I'm only making 1 trip. Know your limitations and respect your body.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 12:44 PM on February 4, 2016

Best answer: For skin-on-skin irritation, I put cotton fabric in my belly crease or sometimes under my boobs. Really helps with general comfort as well as helping prevent skin infections.

Get a bidet attachment for your toilet. Cleaner and easier than wiping over and over (still need to wipe, just a lot less). No prolonged contortions!

Keep a 'set' of cleaning products in each bathroom, or on each floor of your house if it's more than one story. Nothing to haul around just to get your chores done. I have a Hoover floormate for cleaning hard floors, and I like it quite a bit.
posted by wwartorff at 3:52 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

At home: Could your washer, dryer, or dishwasher be raised a few inches? Doing this helped a friend of mine who had mobility issues.

Going out: The same friend, who was similarly sized to yourself, got herself cute zip-up swim separates. It made going to the pool together easier for her.

(Not that you should or shouldn't go swimming. Changing swimsuit style just made an activity she enjoyed easier & meant we could float together to escape winter more often.)
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 9:02 AM on February 5, 2016

Best answer: I second the suggestions for Body Glide (I just use my regular antiperspirant on my thighs, but I think that's basically what Body Glide is), wearing easy-to-shed layers (because nothing makes me more miserable than being a sweaty person), and finding comfortable shoes (which you've got covered).

Another thing that makes an exponential difference at a higher body weight, for me, is taking really good care of my feet: exfoliating, moisturizing, toe nail maintenance, etc. Cracked heels will hurt anyone, but I have found that any bits of rough or dry skin contribute to foot pain a lot more now than when I weighed less. Reaching your feet to exfoliate could be an issue, but some foot files have long handles that may help.

I also recently switched out my regular body lotion for Johnson's Baby Lotion (in the pink bottle), and I find that it works really well in the folds of my skin. Other lotions felt like they never really sunk in there and contributed to chafing. But since this is made for roly-poly baby skin, it also seems good for roly-poly grown lady skin. (You will have to accept that very specific baby-lotion smell, but I think it's worth it.)

I also wanted to say: thanks for asking this question! It's really difficult to find advice and resources for living with a non-normative body that don't have to do with trying to change your body; I'm grateful for everyone sharing their thoughts.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 2:03 PM on February 5, 2016

Baby powder is very helpful for both feet and other areas.

My friend who is mobility challenged linked the lights in his house to his smartphone - that way he doesn't need to get up to adjust the lighting. Plus, it's super nifty.
posted by bq at 10:58 PM on February 7, 2016

AND, maternity clothing was the most comfortable clothing I've ever worn. They seemed to have paid particular attention to seams, textures, etc.
posted by bq at 7:49 PM on February 8, 2016

I started wearing dark scrubs pants for a medical job years ago and I found that a well-made pair looks just like normal pants. (Well, you can't wear a belt with them, but they're fine if you're wearing a t-shirt or something over it.) You can adjust the waistband if you lose or gain weight, or even if you just have a sore tummy. It's great to have some decent-looking clothes that you know will just fit, no matter what your scale says today. Sometimes they also have lots and lots of discreet pockets.

Seriously, go to a scrubs supplier and check out the inventory. You may find something just right. I lost weight recently and I'm on my way to lose some more, but no matter how svelte I get I doubt I'll give my scrubs up soon.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:34 AM on February 9, 2016

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